Aug.15, 2019

'She Has Her Mother’s Laugh’ Wins Best Book Award From Academies; NPR, Science News, ProPublica, and GroundTruth Project/PBS Frontline Also Take Top Prizes

WASHINGTON -- The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine announced today the recipients of the 2019 Communication Awards.  Supported by the W.M. Keck Foundation since 2003 as part of the Keck Futures Initiative, these prestigious awards in four categories -- each of which includes a $20,000 prize -- recognize excellence in reporting and communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public. That program has ended, and this will be the final year of these awards.

The winners will be honored during a ceremony on Oct. 16 in Washington, D.C.

“Congratulations to this year’s winners, who did an outstanding job communicating about complex issues related to science, technology, and health in innovative ways that really capture people’s attention and imagination,” said May Berenbaum, NAS member and chair of the awards selection committee, and professor of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  "Our committee feels privileged to have been part of this awards program over the years, and we are delighted that the recognition accorded to winners and finalists has helped advance careers in science communication while engendering in the public a fascination for and appreciation of science and scientists.”

Selected from 346 entries for works published or aired in 2018, the recipients of this year's awards, along with each category's finalists, are:


Carl Zimmer for “She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity” (Dutton - Penguin Random House LLC)
“A sweeping yet engaging examination from a personal perspective of the evolving nature of the scientific understanding of heredity across the centuries. The book debunks many of the insidious and profoundly unscientific distortions of heredity, including those that have provided faulty foundations for racism and eugenics – and illuminates the 21st century applications with the greatest promise for transforming people’s lives.”



Howard Berkes, Nicole Beemsterboer, Huo Jingnan, and Robert Benincasa of NPR for “Coal’s Deadly Dust”
“An exemplar of brilliant investigative journalism documenting the catastrophic public health consequences to coal miners and their communities when authorities make economic or policy decisions in the absence of  scientific evidence or with its deliberate rejection."



Tina Saey of Science News for “Genetic Testing Goes Mainstream”
“A timely, informative, and eminently readable series on the uses and limitations of DNA testing for both medical and ancestry purposes.”


“Both winners optimize the online medium to explain the unintended and devastating environmental outcomes of decisions that ultimately cause the greatest harm to people who had no role in making them.”


Lisa Song, Al Shaw, and Katie Campbell of ProPublica, Patrick Michels of Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, and Ranjani Chakraborty of Vox for “Flood Thy Neighbor”
“A regional view of what happens when levees constructed to protect one community against flooding lead to unanticipated inundation of neighboring communities.”


The GroundTruth Project and FRONTLINE PBS for “The Last Generation”
”Three children of the Marshall Islands share their hopes and fears for the future as they grapple with the possibility of seeing their homeland disappear due to rising sea levels.”


The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative was created in 2003 to encourage interdisciplinary research and was funded by a 15-year, $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation.  For more information on the Futures Initiative and the Communication Awards, please visit  For more information about the W.M. Keck Foundation, please visit

The awards ceremony will take place on Oct. 16 at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C.  The ceremony is free and open to the public. Please register to attend by Oct. 4 to

Follow the conversation on Twitter using #NASEMCommAward.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

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